Environmentalists in Toronto are calling for action as the UN climate conference begins

Our planet is changing. It’s our journalism too. This story is part of a CBC News initiative entitled Our Changing Planet to show and explain the effects of climate change and what is being done about it.

As world leaders gather for what many call “make-or-break” climate talks in Glasgow, Scotland, environmentalists in Toronto warn that the city needs to move faster if it is to meet future emission reduction targets.

Julia Langer, CEO of The Atmospheric Fund (TAF), a regional climate agency focusing on Greater Toronto and the Hamilton area, said Toronto is not currently on track to reach its 2030 and 2050 climate goals.

Below Transform ON climate strategy adopted by the City Council in 2017, Toronto is committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 65 percent by 2030 and to achieving net zero emissions by 2050 (figures based on 1990 levels).

“The status of play is that we are a kind of flat lining when we actually need to fall steeply in our emissions,” Langer said.

The warning comes as the COP26 UN climate conference kicks off on Sunday, with the aim of getting representatives from almost 200 countries to put the details into a plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, achieve zero-zero emissions by 2050 and maintain the increase in global temperatures below 1.5 C.

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The Conference of Parties (COP), as it is known, meets every year and is the global decision-making body set up in the early 1990s to implement the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and subsequent climate agreements.

This year’s summit, as organizers say, could be the world’s ‘best last chance to get runaway climate change under control,’ taking place over the next two weeks. It will include high-level lectures on a range of topics, including the transition to clean energy, financing this shift, adapting to climate change and bringing greenhouse gas emissions from transport to zero.

Julia Langer, CEO of The Atmospheric Fund, says Toronto needs to do more to reach its 2030 and 2050 emissions targets. (Chris Langenzarde / CBC)

Cities are the key to reducing emissions

Langer said global emissions targets and other policy targets adopted at the UN summit will “set the direction” for future climate plans across the globe, and cities have a crucial role to play in translating those targets into action.

“The COP tends to be very focused on these big goals, but we actually need to bring the goals home, and this is where cities come in,” Langer said.

Toronto’s total greenhouse gas emissions increased by seven percent in 2018 compared to the previous year – the first time emissions increased in at least eight years – according to the latest inventory available from the city.

While emissions dropped significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic, Langer said it was a “blip” caused by a temporary reduction in people’s movements due to lockdowns, which brought transportation emissions down.

“We can not trust that the pandemic is our climate action plan,” she said.

Gideon Forman, a policy analyst at the David Suzuki Foundation, says Toronto is already experiencing the effects of a warming planet. (Alison Chiasson / CBC)

Gideon Forman, policy analyst at the David Suzuki Foundation, said Toronto and its surrounding area are already experiencing the consequences of a warming planet.

He pointed to the flooding of basements and the Toronto Islands in recent years, along with warmer, smoother summer weather and poor air quality last summer caused by smoke from forest fires in northwestern Ontario as a warning of what is to come.

“The climate crisis is not something that is happening in another part of the world,” Forman said. “It’s happening right here in Toronto, and we’re feeling it.”

Buildings, transport main sources of emissions

Both Forman and Langer agree that for Toronto to reach its emissions targets, it must electrify the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) fleet, build more public transportation to lure people out of their private vehicles, retrofit buildings to make them more energy efficient. and help residents switch their home heating systems from gas to electricity.

These measures will help reduce the city’s two main sources of emissions: heating homes and buildings (55 percent) and transportation (36 percent).

One thing that could derail the region’s environmental progress, Forman said, is if the Ford government succeeds in building Highway 413, a proposed 59-mile route northwest of Toronto.

“We need to get people out of cars, not build more highways,” Forman said.

In a statement, a spokesman for the Ontario Secretary of the Environment insisted that the highway would reduce traffic jams, which would reduce emissions and allow people to “get from point A to point B with a smaller CO2 footprint.”

‘We need to do more, faster’

grev. Jennifer McKelvie, who represents Ward 25, Scarborough-Rouge Park and is also chair of the city’s infrastructure and environment committee, said the city has taken great strides in recent years to reduce emissions.

McKelvie pointed out that Toronto reached its original goal of reducing emissions by 30 percent by 2020 compared to 1990 levels. She also proclaimed hundreds of millions of dollars in operating funds set aside this year for 439 climate-related projects.

“We’re moving in the right direction, but we know we need to do more, faster,” McKelvie said.

grev. Jennifer McKelvie, chair of the city’s infrastructure and environment committee, says the city has taken major steps towards reducing emissions, but it needs to do ‘more, faster’. (Posted by Jennifer McKelvie)

Some examples of the city’s current climate roof include investments in expanding and electrifying public transport, launching a strategy for electric cars, helping residents retrofit their homes, allowing cargo e-bikes on roads and bike paths, improving the handling of traffic jams and greens. street programs.

Later in the year, city staff will present to the Council the TransformTO Net Zero Strategy, which will describe how the city can achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

McKelvie said the net-zero report expected in December will “map out the ambitious path ahead of us.”

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